The easiest way for someone to trust what a writer puts out there (whether they write about beer or any other consumer product) is for the writer to be authentic; true to their readers, the businesses they cover, and themselves for crying out loud. While on the panel, I shared my wish that beer writers would tell the truth. I also said it would be great if those same folks would stop being so happy about getting free beer and being on the craft beer gravy train.
While I still purchase most of my beer, occasionally, a business will provide unsolicited samples. It’s the way it is and, so long as it doesn’t alter a writer’s view and incite them to paint a more favorable opinion of a beer or brewery than they otherwise would have, it’s no problem. But all too often, it does, especially with writers who have never operated within a traditional journalistic structure guided by long-standing ethical mandates. Because of the rise of online outlets and social media, the inability of major publications to employ reporters and pay writers the way they used to, free beer has become the primary, if not sole reason many people get into blogging and writing about beer. For many, it’s the only “compensation” of any sort that they receive. It’s all about the beer and the close-up brewery experiences for them, and that creates a dangerous situation for readers looking for the straight scoop.
And we haven’t even scraped the surface of writers who make money by selling advertising space on their website or blogs. Obviously, this compromises a journalist’s ability to say something negative about a business. Ditto those who sell consultant services…like the company the individual who asked me how I could attack babies blogs for. What a valiant stance to take on behalf of all the brewery owners in San Diego, confronting the villainous beer writer who would (gasp) do something so deplorable as putting the consumer first and (double gasp) sharing their authentic opinion. I don’t sell advertisements. I don’t have an app built around selling premium packages to brewery owners. I’m a writer paid directly by a publication that asks me, in return for the compensation they provide, to be diligent about reporting on the entire scene and be truthful.
And as I did at Beer-Con, I’d like to discuss how I develop the opinions that I share in print about local breweries. They are not fully my own. Like anyone, I am capable of forming my own opinions on anything and lead with them always, but when it comes to talking about the quality of a brewery, one man’s opinion, even if it comes from someone very knowledgeable on the subject, isn't always enough. When I visit breweries or taste their beers in a critic capacity, I most often do so with highly qualified individuals by my side—brewers, beer bar owners, brewing industry personnel, quality control professionals, certified beer judges, Cicerones (the certified beer industry equivalent of sommeliers), and the like. Even with something as subjective as beer, consensus is often reached and their expert input is invaluable.
So know this, reader. Even if it’s unpopular with others, you can trust what I report here and in the other publications that I provide craft beer content for. I see the truth as the most essential component of reporting on any subject and will afford it to you always. I am honored to have you in the audience and will never take your presence lightly.